‘Raging’ Nicola Sturgeon ‘told SNP members not to ask about finances’

Sturgeon outside her home - Wattie Cheung for The Telegraph
Sturgeon outside her home - Wattie Cheung for The Telegraph

A furious Nicola Sturgeon ordered the SNP’s ruling body to stop asking questions about the party’s finances shortly after police started investigating them, it has been alleged.

Insiders said the then first minister tried to quash questions from the party’s national executive committee (NEC) about £600,000 that had been raised from supporters to fight a new independence referendum campaign.

Ms Sturgeon was said to have told the recorded meeting in August 2021, a month after police launched an investigation: “We don’t need to talk about the finances. The finances are absolutely fine.”

The Sunday Mail reported that a “raging” Ms Sturgeon warned the NEC members that raising the issue “was undermining the party” and made clear “it shouldn’t be discussed”.

Sources also alleged that Peter Murrell, her husband and the SNP’s former chief executive, was behind the shortened timetable for the party leadership contest to succeed her.

Although the party has insisted that Lorna Finn, the national secretary, was in charge of the process, insiders said that Mr Murrell was in “complete control”.

The decision to shorten the leadership race meant that Humza Yousaf was elected SNP leader and First Minister before Mr Murrell’s arrest. Ms Sturgeon insisted she had “no prior knowledge of Police Scotland’s action or intentions”.

But Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, attacked Ms Sturgeon’s “absurd” insistence that she did not suddenly announce her resignation in February because her husband was under police investigation.

Mr Murrell was arrested on Wednesday and released later that day pending further investigation.

Police Scotland officers spent two days searching the couple’s home, with a large tent erected in the front garden, and also raided the SNP’s headquarters in Edinburgh.

Since July 2021, Police Scotland has been examining the SNP’s handling of more than £600,000 in donations raised in 2017 for a second independence referendum.

Supporters made complaints when accounts lodged with Companies House in 2020 appeared to show the SNP only had £97,000 in the bank despite the referendum never having been held.

Last month, it was disclosed that police were investigating high-value transactions, including the purchase of cars.

Sources said Ms Sturgeon told the August 2021 SNP NEC meeting that “there was nothing wrong with the accounts and that people should stop talking about it because it was undermining the party”.

They added: “It’s fair to say she was pretty raging about it. She went on at some length telling everyone that everything was absolutely fine and that it shouldn’t be discussed.”

The NEC was discussing a report, which had been commissioned by Keith Brown, the SNP's deputy leader, after the financial concerns were first raised.

In the final paragraph, he said transparency could be increased if the party prepared a “monthly written summary of income and expenditure, confirmed via the bank account.” However, the recommendations were never implemented.

Mr Yousaf had dismissed as a “conspiracy theory” suggestions that police delayed arresting Mr Murrell until after the leadership contest could be completed.

But party sources said Mr Murrell, who quit last month as chief executive, personally intervened to shorten the leadership race to just a few weeks in the wake of Ms Sturgeon’s resignation.

They said: “A paper was presented to the NEC at the meeting in the week after Nicola’s resignation, recommending the shortened timetable.

“That was 100 per cent being driven by Peter, even if the paper was in the national secretary’s name. He was in complete control of the election process.”

They also said the SNP’s constitution stipulated that at least 77 days should be allowed for nominations but only eight days were allowed.

If the standard timetable had been implemented, they argued, Mr Murrell would have been arrested in the middle of the outcome rather than the week after the result was announced.

Sources close to Ms Sturgeon continued to insist that the police investigation was not a factor in her decision to resign.

But Mr Ross told GB News’s Camilla Tominey Show: “For her to somehow suggest and continue to suggest it had nothing to do with this ongoing inquiry I think is frankly absurd.

“We’ve now seen the incredible sight of someone who has just been first minister inside a house when the police came to arrest her husband. Now, obviously, that’s an ongoing live police inquiry and I can’t go much further into it but we have all seen the house being taped off.”

Kirk Torrance, a senior strategist for Ash Regan’s SNP leadership campaign, agreed that the “continuity candidate” Mr Yousaf may not have won if the arrest had happened first, tweeting that this was “precisely the issue”.

A spokesman for Ms Sturgeon said: “It would not be appropriate to comment on a live police investigation. Ms Sturgeon will fully cooperate with Police Scotland if required, however, at this time no such request has been made.”

An SNP spokesman said: “The SNP ruling body, the NEC, has agreed to a review of governance and transparency, that process is already underway.”

He added: “The leadership election rules were voted and decided upon by NEC members and were agreed with all leadership candidates. No issues were raised with the party about the campaign’s timetable.”